Roberto Mancini did what pretty much every manager in his situation would have done Sunday. Group A, barring a minor disaster, was essentially his team’s to lose, and not necessarily needing a win to take the top spot in the group was very a case that called for some squad rotation following two very impressive displays to begin Euro 2020.
The ‘B’ squad, they’re not too bad, either.
Mancini very much went to a brand new starting lineup against Wales, but it didn’t equate to the Italian train train slowing down at all to finish up the Azzurri’s play in the group stage. Thanks to a first-half Matteo Pessina goal and another strong defensive performance that ran their shutout streak past 1,000 minutes, Mancini’s Italy squad wrapped up the top spot in Group A with a 1-0 win over Aaron Ramsey and Wales at the Stadio Olimpico.
We got Federico Chiesa, who was good.
We got Federico Bernardeschi, who was not as good.
We got the rare second-half goalkeeper change as a little tip of the cap to Salvatore Sirigu.
Hell, we even got Bernardeschi with one of the best free kicks a Juventus player has put forward in months.
Basically, there was squad rotation, but there wasn’t the massive dropoff that could have happened when you rest a massive chunk of the team that had looked so good against Turkey and then Switzerland. That’s a credit to Mancini for just how good he has this team playing right now and how much the team has truly bought into what their manager is trying to do. But it also speaks to the fact that while they’re not household names across the rest of Europe since not all of them are playing for the big boys in Serie A, but Mancini has put a really good squad together on the whole and there’s a whole lot of depth
Sure, somebody like Marco Verratti made his first start and was obviously involved in a lot of good things that Italy did. And it’s certainly a luxury to have a player of Chiesa’s caliber not be a full-time starter on this team. But the likes of Pessina, Alessandro Bastoni, Rafael Toloi — those guys are big contributors to their respective clubs yet they’re part of the squad rotation group on this team.
And against a Wales team that has been far from an easy out so far in this tournament, Italy only continued to do what they’ve been doing for the better part of the last three years.
They won. They got a shutout. They limited the opposition from doing just about anything consistent in the attacking third of the field. And, most of all, they controlled the game no matter who was actually out there on the field and in the starting lineup.
That just shows where this team is at right now.
There’s a reason to believe in this Italy squad, and the ‘B’ squad didn’t do anything to diminish any of the good vibes surrounding the team right now.
Now comes the knockout stages for a team that really seems like it’s just getting started. And some of their most important players didn’t even need to step on the field Sunday — which means whoever is next up is going to have to deal with a well-rested midfield and attack that have been so, so good in the opening two games of Euro 2020.
Things could be worse. Things could really be a lot worse. Thankfully, they’re not.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Sign Manuel Locatelli right now. Even when he spends the entire game on the bench he’s providing one of the most memorable moments of the day. He clearly is ready to not put up with any semblance of B.S. from anybody associated with Inter. See what I mean?
- Italy’s free kick routines ... they’re so damn good.
- Just look at the Pessina goal. There is one person who that ball from Verratti was meant for, and it was the guy who scored it. Pessina’s finish was absolutely perfectly placed, too. There was one spot that was going to be beat the keeper at the far post, and it was where Pessina put it. That’s pretty good.
- Nothing against Andrea Conti and the injuries that have crushed a really promising career, but you think Milan wish they still had Pessina (and obviously Locatelli) in their ranks?
- Gianluigi Donnarumma has three shutouts to his name in this tournament. He’s had to make two saves. Seriously. As much as you want to talk about how Mancini has changed this team for the better in midfield and attack, but Italy can still defend like hell, and that’s never not a bad thing when it comes to being successful at big tournaments like this one.
- Marco Verratti had more key passes by himself (5) than Wales had as a team (3).
- In conclusion, Marco Verratti is really good and man I wish a team that wears black and white stripes had a player like him who grew up a Juventino in their midfield.
- You know, basically saying this as well: Sign Locatelli.
- This isn’t going to be breaking news to anybody here who followed Juventus this past season, but it really is fun to watch Federico Chiesa grow into a game and become more and more involved as it goes on. This was the case against Wales, and you could really see what Chiesa is all about just from about the time he nearly scored in the first half onward. As much Verratti was the source of a lot of good in the center of the park, Mancini flipping Chiesa over to the right and Bernardeschi to the left was what got Freddie Church going. More of that, please.
- Seriously, guys, what if Bernardeschi scored that free kick? That woulda been hilarious.
- No Giorgio Chiellini, no problem. The shutout streak rolls on.
- Italy’s midfield is so deep that somebody like Gaetano Castrovilli, a very good young player, is a tiny piece to the puzzle on this team. No matter what his season was like for Fiorentina this year, that’s wild because Castrovilli can provide a lot.
- Controversial opinion (maybe): That red card .... I dunno. Yellow card, sure, but a straight red? I wasn’t totally convinced it was that bad. It was bad, but maybe not straight red bad.
- Aaron Ramsey is a false 9 for Wales. No joke. I am 100 percent serious. But, in ways a lot like Bernardeschi, he’s definitely been a lot better for his country lately than he has for his club. Unfortunately for us, his club is the one we root for around here. (And that club pays him a looooooot of money each season.)
- I don’t know about you guys, but this is about as good as I’ve felt about an Italy team in years. They love to reference Italy not making the World Cup on the ESPN broadcast and all of the progress Mancini has made since then, but overall, this team is just full of young, talented players who appear to be working damn well together. I’ll take that every day of the week.